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Introduction | History of Deism | Variants of Deism
Introduction Back to Top

Deism is a form of Monotheism in which it is believed that one God exists, but that this God does not intervene in the world, or interfere with human life and the laws of the universe. It posits a non-interventionist creator who permits the universe to run itself according to natural laws.

Deism derives the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience, rather than relying on revelation in sacred scriptures (which deists see as interpretations made by other humans and not as an authoritative source) or on the testimony of others. This is in direct contrast to Fideism (the view that religious belief depends on faith or revelation, rather than reason). It can maybe best be described as a basic belief rather than as a religion in itself, and there are currently no established deistic religions.

Deists typically reject supernatural events (e.g. prophecy, miracles, the divinity of Jesus, the Christian concept of the Trinity), and they regard their faith as a natural religion as contrasted with one that is revealed by a God or which is artificially created by humans. They do not view God as an entity in human form; they believe that one cannot access God through any organized religion or set of rituals, sacraments or other practices; they do not believe that God has selected a chosen people (e.g. Jews or Christians) to be the recipients of any special revelation or gifts; and, given that they view God as having left his creation behind, prayer makes no sense to them, except perhaps to express their appreciation to God for his works.

History of Deism Back to Top

The roots of Deism lie with Heraclitus and Plato, but it gained popularity with the natural theologists of 17th Century England and France, who rejected any special or supposedly supernatural revelation of God. Isaac Newton's discovery of universal gravitation explained the behavior both of objects here on earth and of objects in the heavens and promoted a world view in which the natural universe is controlled by laws of nature. This, in turn, suggested a theology in which God created the universe, set it in motion controlled by natural laws, and then retired from the scene.

The first use of the term "deism" in English dates back to the early 17th Century (earlier in France). Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583 - 1648) is generally considered the "father of English deism" and his book "De Veritate" (1624) the first major statement of deism. Deism flourished in England between 1690 and 1740, and then spread to France, notably via the work of Voltaire, to Germany and to America. Although not himself a deist, John Locke's "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1690) marks a major turning point in the history of deism, and a theory of knowledge based on experience replaced the earlier one of innate ideas, culminating in Matthew Tindal's "Deist Bible" (1730).

During the 18th Century, Deism's converts included Voltaire, Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592), Rousseau and Maximilien Robespierre (1758 - 1794) in France, and several of the founding fathers of the United States of America. With the critical the writings of David Hume and Immanuel Kant though, Deism's influence started to wane as the 18th Century progressed.

Variants of Deism Back to Top

  • Pandeism is the belief that God preceded the universe and created it, but is now equivalent to it - a composite of Deism and Pantheism. Pandeism holds that God was a conscious and sentient force or entity that designed and created the universe, which operates by mechanisms set forth as part of the creation. God thus became an unconscious and non-responsive being by becoming the universe.
  • Panendeism is a composite of Deism and Panentheism. It holds that the universe is part of God, but not all of God, and that it operates according to natural mechanisms without the need for the intervention of a traditional God, somewhat similar to the Native American concept of the all- pervading Great Spirit.
  • Polydeism is the belief that multiple gods exist, but do not intervene with the universe - a composite of Deism and Polytheism.

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